Updated Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 at 4:00 a.m.
The West Virginia House of Delegates finished their opportunity to tailor a long, sweeping and controversial education reform bill after more than 10 hours of debate Wednesday. With Senate Bill 451 on the floor amendment stage, delegates voted on 31 amendments to a strike-and-insert version of the measure -- adopting 10 and rejecting 21.
Amendments adopted by the House made slight alterations to a version of the bill that passed the chamber’s education and finance committees, but the 120-page-plus measure appears significantly different than the version the Senate passed last week.
Delegates considered amendments related to charter schools, education savings accounts, teacher attendance bonuses, raising county levy rates, what qualifications would be considered in a reduction in force and non-discrimination against the LGBTQ communities.
Rejected Amendments: Charter Schools, Education Savings Accounts
Most notable was the rejection of multiple amendments that dealt with charter schools and education savings accounts.
Republicans, including delegates Paul Espinosa (Jefferson), Terry Waxman (Harrison) and others, sought to bring charter school and education savings accounts provisions closer to what was in the version the Senate passed -- and in some cases, offered to go beyond that mark.
Those amendments failed.
Del. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, offered multiple amendments to charter school language in the bill -- first allowing two per county, one per county, 25 statewide, then 20 statewide.
Wilson had a similar approach to education savings accounts -- first allowing no cap, then 10,000 and then, finally, 5,000.
“Same amendment, just less freedom,” Wilson said multiple times as he explained amendments that gradually reduced caps on charter schools and education savings accounts.
All Republican attempts to boost the charter schools proposal were ultimately rejected. Charter schools remain capped at two pilots and education savings accounts are nowhere to be found in the current version of the bill -- the same that was first proposed and approved by the House Education Committee last week.
Most Adopted Amendments Make for Minor Tweaks, Others Bring New Ideas
Members debated at length an amendment offered by Del. Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, that would place a law enforcement officer in every public school. Sponaugle said the idea for the amendment came after speaking with students about frequent gun violence across the nation and concerns over school safety. Sponaugle’s amendment was debated for more than an hour before being adopted on a 82-17 vote.
A bipartisan amendment explained on the floor by Del. Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, increases an annual bonus -- from $500 to $1,000 -- for teachers who miss four or less days of work. The amendment was adopted on 65-33 vote.
Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, proposed removing virtual charter schools from the bill. That amendment passed on a 56-41 vote.
Other amendments that modified the bill tweak the considerations taken into account when a reduction in force occurs and, also, removing a provision that made school administrators “at-will” employees.
— Dave Mistich (@davemistich) February 14, 2019
Debate Over LGBTQ Rights Finds Its Way Into Education Reform
In the wake of a controversy involving inflammatory remarks from Del. Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, Democrats worked in an amendment that continued their equal rights push for people in LGBTQ communities.
Democratic Dels. Danielle Walker (Monongalia), Sammi Brown (Jefferson) and other members of their party sought to add a non-discrimination clause based on gender and sexual orientation to the charter school provision of the bill. That amendment was rejected on a 37-59 vote.
County Levy Hike Provision Sees Back and Forth
An adopted amendment offered by Del. Terri Sypolt, R-Preston, saw to it that any changes to county levy rate hikes would need to be approved by voters during a general election.
Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, offered an amendment that would have stricken the entire section on the county levy rate changes. That amendment was adopted on the tightest of margins -- a 50-49 vote -- making Sypolt’s amendment moot.
But delegates wound up not being satisfied with the outcome of the vote on Linville’s amendment.
A motion to reconsider the amendment drew further debate on the issue. That motion was adopted and delegates decided to vote again on striking the entire section.
With Linville’s amendment ultimately being rejected on a 47-52 vote upon reconsideration, Sypolt’s amendment went back into play.
Senate Bill 451 Advances to Next Stage
After considering secondary amendments to Senate Bill 451, delegates adopted the amended strike-and-insert version of the measure on a 61-38 vote -- which advances the proposal to third reading and up for a final vote Thursday.
“At this point, I think we have the definition before us of letting something go through the process,” House Education Chair Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, said just before the House advanced the bill.
Should the bill pass the chamber Thursday, the measure will return to the Senate to concur with the House’s version.